Guidelines on the Ethical Use of Language
by Junelie Anthony Velonta
Language, something so inherently human, has many times been used to manipulate people. From false news and data to words of hate and division, the unethical use of language has increased dramatically. The internet does not help with this. With the speed at which information is transmitted and consumed, context could barely keep up. People then are fooled into doing wrong, but the real perpetrators remain free. However, the common person isn’t entirely innocent of this. Without guidance, unsuspecting people could use unethical methods to achieve their ends. As such, here are a few key points to observe in order not to use language unethically. However, this list is non-exhaustive.
Present Data Accurately
Advertisements are perhaps the guiltiest of this offense. No, your favorite chocolate drink does not actually have “25 grams more” nor does “9 out of 10 dentists” recommend your favorite toothpaste brand. The people making adverts know this. Thus, they use semantics and roundabout mathematics to achieve favorable sentences and numbers. “25 grams more” actually is “25 grams. More.” But without the use of punctuations in labels, the consumer is made to think the former. Consequently, “9 out of 10 dentists” recommend brushing teeth, regardless of the toothpaste brand. Ever wonder why every make and brand of toothpaste says the same thing? That is why. One must be extra vigilant about this especially during this pandemic. A death rate of 1% may not seem like much, but it corresponds to the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Gaslighting, a term commonly used in the context of mental health, goes further and beyond that. There are many instances and examples of gaslighting. At its core, however, is one thing. Manipulation of information and experience to ridicule or downplay their significance, that is the broader and most central definition of gaslighting. When it comes to language, gaslighting is often observed in debates and discussions. Ironically, both sides could be seen doing this, whether they are claiming to fight for justice or not. For example, an online discussion regarding the legitimacy of “Filipinx” became viral. One commenter, who claimed to fight for the decolonization of Philippine culture and the justice connected to it, told a Filipino that said Filipino cannot comment on being colonized because of their Spanish surname. This is erasure of experience for very small reasons, and for some, this may be a “muscle memory.” As such, people must be aware of it, and actively fight it, especially through speech.
Stop Peddling Fear
People, especially those who do not react well to stressful stimuli, often make unreasonable actions out of fear. Whether it is through gossip or social media posts, the sentiments of the afraid are quick to circulate. As these sentiments circulate, fears become “facts.” To some, these “facts” become the basis for their actions in their foreseeable future—one in which they are under siege by a threat that may have not existed in the first place. In the aftermath of the Beirut explosion, a prominent Filipino action star took to social media and declared the explosion as a terrorist attack. While the said statement could be verified as false, as the explosion was because of an unattended and mismanaged stash of Ammonium Nitrate, those that saw his post and digested it without context or verification have become afraid. Context was thrown out the window and fear came knocking on the front door.
Language used without benefit is often manipulative. Whether it is the empty talk among talkative neighbors to government officials saying that they are not corrupt, speech and writing used without considering their effects do more harm than good, or they do not do good at all. Thus, and above all, before speaking or writing, one must think: ‘What good will this do?’